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Answers to Your College Questions

What should I do if I disagree with a grade my professor gave me?

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First you need to be sure you understand the basis of the grade. Recheck the syllabus to see how the grades are determined.

If your paper is supposed to be ten pages long and you turn in seven pages, double space in fourteen-point type, you’re not going to get an A. If it’s a research paper, then citing Wikipedia does not count. Good grades are about not only doing the work, but doing it well. It’s about quality—your work should be grammatical, logical, aligned with instructions, and thoughtful, as a bare minimum.

So if you’re struggling to understand the lecture, doing badly on quizzes, or seeing lots of red marks on your midterm paper, then you need to go see your professor to ask what you’re doing wrong and how to improve. In grading in non-quantitative courses, a subjective factor often exists, and the sincerity of your effort could be the difference between a B and a B+. High grades are not an entitlement because you pay the bills and deign to attend class—they are a reflection of real effort and energy.

If you’ve been to the professor, however, and she will not budge or cannot be found (which sometimes happens with part-time faculty), then go to the department chair, the boss of the department in which the instructor teaches. This is the person who can locate a wayward professor, seek evidence of why a grade was given, and help negotiate an understanding and an amicable resolution. Do not try to go above this person; you’ll get marked as a troublemaker if you write to the president of the college and copy the board of trustees about your grade—this approach does not make friends. Furthermore, these officials are not empowered to change grades; that is the purview of the faculty.

With a disputed grade, you may be in a good position to make your case, if you’ve kept copies of emails and all assignments, graded papers, and exams. To prove that you turned in a paper on a specific date, for example, you may need a computer record. Keep everything until you have your diploma in hand.

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Tagged in: College Classes

Dr. Marcia Y. Cantarella has held positions at Hunter College, Princeton University, New York University, and Metropolitan College of New York during her distinguished career as a dean and vice president of student affairs. Through her expertise in delivering student services and strategies, she has enhanced the academic experiences of and outcomes for generations of students. She is now president of Cantarella Consulting in New York City where she works with colleges and organizations on issues of higher education pipelines, access, diversity, and student access.

Cantarella is the author of I Can Finish College, which you can find in the College Countdown bookstore.


  • Guest
    Gary Gruber Tuesday, 11 December 2012

    When I was in high school, on a math test, although I got all the questions right, I marked on the test how the questions could be changed so that the test would be more interesting and challenging. I got a D on the test. My father went up to school and complained about the low grade. The score on the test was changed to a B, although I believe I should have gotten an A. So it is probably not wise to make comments on the test you are taking.
    Gary Gruber

  • Guest
    Guest Friday, 28 March 2014

    I like the idea of keeping all assignments, grades, etc. so you are in an empowered position if a professor gives you an unfair grade. I currently have a professor who I believe grades unfairly. His rubrics are vague and seem to be based on what he feels about your paper, and his grades are lower than what his comments seem to merit. Worse comes to worse, I will appeal my grade if his behavior after asking him about it doesn't change. Professors can't expect to ruin a student's gpa for no reason and get away with it.

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Guest Sunday, 26 March 2017